TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (November 10, 2011) –
In a large house near Tallahassee Community College, four young men who served together in Iraq find themselves signed up for a different sort of mission. Although they come from far-flung parts of the United States, they are now all students at Tallahassee Community College.
Sadly, it was a tragedy that kept the group together after their military service.
Max Sanders and Rio Klimek, both 23, had been in basic training together and were deployed simultaneously to Iraq. Sean Carroll and Austin Hamilton were in the next basic training cycle and eventually joined the same unit. The four became friends and often spoke about their plans for the future. Carroll, 22, who is from Plattsburg, New York, says he tried to talk Hamilton into attending college in New York with him but Hamilton lobbied for his own hometown of Tallahassee.
Then, in May 2010, soon after returning from Iraq, Hamilton was killed in an accidental shooting at Ft. Hood, Texas. Hamilton was an Army Scout with the 1st Calvary Division, where he was awarded the Army Commendation Medal, the National Defense Service Medal, the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, the Iraqi Combat Medal for Combat Service, the Combat Action Badge, the Army Service Ribbon and the Overseas Service Ribbon.
Hamilton was a believer in organ donation and, according to his father, Keith Hamilton, is credited with saving at least five lives within 24 hours of his death. Because tissue can be preserved, Austin’s gift, even today, continues to improve the quality of life for countless others.
On Memorial Day 2010, Klimek, Sanders and Carroll met in Tallahassee to attend the memorial service for their friend. They stayed with Brandon Davidson, another friend from Iraq who had already left the military and was attending college at TCC, just as Austin Hamilton was before he left to serve in Iraq. Sanders and Carroll found that they liked Tallahassee and the prospect of being near Austin’s family, so they decided they would enroll at TCC once their military service ended that October. Klimek followed not long after.
Meanwhile, the Hamilton family received an uplifting letter from an 18-year old that was faced with having a leg amputation, that is, until he received a bone graft from Austin Hamilton. Keith Hamilton said that the letter opened his eyes to how the gift of organ and tissue donation can truly transform lives. After that, he launched a crusade to promote organ donation and encourage people of all ages to sign up for Florida’s organ and tissue donor registry.
When Hamilton set up the Austin Spencer “Ash” Hamilton Foundation for Organ Donor Awareness, he asked his son’s relocated Army buddies to get involved, too. Now, Carroll and Sanders are members of the Foundation’s board of directors, and Klimek and Davidson attended a class to become organ donation spokespersons. They regularly participate in the all-volunteer Foundation’s fundraising events, such as the Stingray Roundup Bow Fishing tournament.
The young Army veterans also see the Hamilton family frequently outside of Foundation events, especially Griffin Hamilton, Austin’s younger brother, who they have come to think of as their own. Griffin Hamilton is a student at Florida State University. Both Sanders and Klimek hope to join him there after they graduate from TCC. Sean Carroll plans to attend the Tallahassee Fire Academy or another school to train as a firefighter.